Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Have you ever played One Word Story? It’s a very simple game: a few people take turns, going around to make a sentence. Each person adds one word, until the sentence is complete, then someone says “period” and it’s read back. It’s actually pretty fun if you play with the right people, but I’m pretty anti-social and only have one or two friends. They don’t like the game as much as I do, so I use a random-chat site to play with strangers. It’s completely anonymous, so my identity is supposed to be safe. Anyway, it was late afternoon on a Saturday, and I was in the middle of a game when my apartment went dark. It was probably caused by the weird heat; all week, other tenants in my building had complained about the power cutting short around this. It only lasted a few minutes, but when the power came back on, I saw had been disconnected from the site. When I tried to reenter, I couldn’t, it kept crashing or something and I kept getting disconnected.
I’m easily bored, and was a little more than pissed that I hadn’t finished my game. So, I took to Google, and searched “Chat Room, Anonymous, One Word Story.” After “0.18223 seconds,” I had 23,000 results. I scrolled down the page and tried a few sites out, but either the players weren’t very good, or I was led to an anonymous sex chat site. It wasn’t until the third page of results that I found something interesting: MicroFiction.com. I clicked the heading and entered the site, then I logged in as a guest. I was really surprised to see how dedicated this site was to an overall simple game; mystery, parody, anime, music, cartoons, horror, film, superstition, and superhero were just a few of the categories that people could use to play One Word Story. For no particular reason, I went to Mystery first and played a few short games, then I went to Horror, then to Music, and to a few others. Eventually, I went to take a bathroom break, and made sure to bookmark the site, so I could visit it in the future. The site was pretty well managed; under each main heading -for example horror- there were subheadings. These were games being hosted by members. Some games only had a few people in them, others had thirty or forty. Some were open to anyone, others were private games that you could only get into if you had a password that the host had sent you. I played for a few hours, really enjoying myself because everyone here took the game just seriously enough to make each sentence interesting, and also had enough fun to make the whole story funny to read out loud, while still making sense.
It was ten now, and ten thirty was my self-imposed bed time, so I resigned to play one more game before going to sleep. Going to Mystery for the last time that night, I found a private game. Being a guest on the site, I couldn’t message the person to ask to join, and I would’ve kept looking for a Public game, except that the page froze. I refreshed it, and saw that the game had been changed to Public, with room for one person. I thought about that: a one-on-one game of one word story, and I felt excited at the possibility that this guy would be just as good as I was, and we could create something really unique. So, I joined. The host, username Doppelgänger1221, went first; “I,” appeared on the screen almost instantly. I was impressed with this guy’s bravery, as using “I” in this game usually led to embarrassing sentences in the long run. So, I rewarded him with a simple enough word that would keep the sentence going: “see.” He responded almost immediately with “you.” This was honestly a very amateur tactic. It would make the game harder to finish, and the “unsettling” approach was never enough to make me quit. I decided to humor him though, and typed, “through”. His response: “your”. I thought about where the sentence was going, and noticed that my living room window was still open from the afternoon; I typed “window.” His response was a period, signaling the end of the sentence.
“I see you through your window.” I chuckled to myself, realizing this guy was a “creep,” a player who tries to make unsettling or disturbing sentences to scare his opponents into leaving the game. He probably had a friend with him, and they were thinking up ways to scare me. I didn’t blame them, my sister and I did that last Halloween when I babysat for my parents. I started the next sentence: “You.” His reply: “are.” My reply: “not.” His reply: “safe.” My reply was a period, ending the sentence.
“You are not safe.” Again, I chuckled, and watched as he started the next sentence. “I” appeared on the screen. I typed “am,” which was followed by “coming”. I thought about ending the sentence there, as a slight punishment against the guy for not taking the game seriously. Instead, I typed “for” to see if he would type what I thought he would. He typed “You.” I was right on the money, and typed a period.
“I am coming for you.” It wasn’t funny anymore, just boring. There was a chat, so I used it to tell the guy to cut the “creep” stuff. I told him it wasn’t funny, and if he didn’t cut it out, I would leave the game. He actually replied.
“Look out your window.” That caught me off guard, but I did what I was told. Across the street, a light post had burned out its bulb, which I hadn’t noticed before. It was pretty dark, and I couldn’t really make out any shapes. I turned back to the monitor. Doppelgänger had typed “I,” and I saw in the chat that he had posted another comment. Basically, he was telling me what to write. I was becoming fed up with him, but ten thirty was just five minutes away, so I reasoned to just finish, and did as he asked. I typed “Have.” He typed “A.” I typed “Gun.” He typed “To.” I typed “Your.” He typed “Head.” I finished the sentence with a period.
“I have a gun to your head.” I sighed aloud, and closed my eyes, stretching at my desk. I just wanted this game to be over. It was my turn, and he had sent me another list of words, so I typed “I.” He typed “Am.” I typed “At.” He typed “Your.” I typed “Window.” He typed a period.
“I am at your window.” Reading it aloud, I realized the game was over: we had made the “story” relate to our first sentence. Out of habit, I read every sentence out loud.
“I see you through your window. You are not safe. I am coming for you. I have a gun to your head. I am at your window.” I finished reading, and rested my head against my chair, yawning. I was drowsy, and thought about sleeping in my chair when a loud, cracking sound echoed across the empty street outside and I noticed the crack that was spider-webbing from the center of my computer monitor. I blinked to full alertness and saw it: the glint of a bullet, sticking out of my screen. I turned my head behind me, and screamed as I saw someone in a mask staring in through my window. Out of panic, I dashed out of my chair and into my bedroom. I hid in the closet, under a thick pile of dirty laundry, and waited, trying to control my rapid breathing as my eyes adjusted to the uncomfortable darkness.
It was a few minutes before I heard soft footsteps. The maniac was in my bedroom; I could see his dark boots and leather pants. He fired the gun again at my bed sheets; he must have thought I was hiding in the covers. He rummaged through my drawers, and took something that I thought was money or my prescription medicine. I saw him stalk towards my bathroom, and fire a shot into the shower. He looked around in there, before turning around, and looking under my bed. He was almost level with the floor, so I could see his features: he was at least six feet, and dressed in all black, except for his mask, which was white with red tear-tracts under the eyes and a painted set of crooked, beast-like teeth; he seemed to see perfectly in the dark. I could really only see him because his clothes seemed to be darker than the already lightless interior of my bedroom. After what felt like hours, he stood up, and walked out of my room. I stayed in my closet all night, eventually falling asleep, covered in my unclean socks and underwear. I smelled horrible in the morning, and the first thing I did was take a shower; I stepped on the bullet that had torn a hole in my shower curtains.
Afterwards, I called the police, who told me to come down to the station. I got ready to go, but couldn’t find my keys anywhere. While looking through the drawers of my desk, I complained internally about my monitor being busted. I could still see the site, the chat room, and the game, and took a picture of it with my phone for the police. Now, in the kitchen looking for my keys, it hit me that I had kept them in my dresser-drawer, and ran into my room to see that what the psycho had taken was my keys. I groaned, and was about to call my buddy for a ride when I accidentally opened my photo gallery. I was very annoyed with myself, until I took another look at the picture I had taken. Something was different in the picture than I had remembered from last night. There was a new line in the chat. A single word. A simple question. A word I had used so many times over the words, after a game was over. I never thought that this word would send shivers down more spine nor turn my blood to ice in my veins.
Credit: Anthony Naranjo